Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I witnessed greatness

In my life, I have met stars on Broadway, Pulitzer winning writers, famous TV stars and brilliant academics. They have my respect and admiration for their great accomplishments. But, nothing they have done comes close to the accomplishments of thirty-one young adults I met at a graduation ceremony at Village Glen School in Culver City, California.

My niece, Emma, graduated with her classmates on a recent morning. It was a simple stage adorned with helium balloons. The graduates entered to Pomp and Circumstance wearing red robes and mortar boards with gold tassels. In the audience I sat with all of their parents, friends, and extended family. Like all graduations, there was a thrill of accomplishment in the air.

I can tell you, that nothing comes close; nothing comes close to the respect and awe I felt in the presence of the graduates.

I have thought for several days about how to write about this experience, how to do it justice. Perhaps the young man who stood up to speak can describe it best. “When I was four years old, my parents were told that I was autistic. They were told that I would never read, never speak in full sentences. I’m here today to tell you that I can do those things.”

I have had a front row seat for the past nineteen years watching my sister fight for her daughter. Emma did the work, but Deb paved the way. My sister is my hero and Emma is my beacon in this world that says all things are possible.

You see, I believe that a fine example of true greatness are these kids and their families who have written their own futures in spite of what any diagnosis was given in early childhood. Greatness comes from the teachers that work side by side with the children year after year. Greatness comes from perseverance, set backs and victories.

Until you have watched a child struggle to use scissors in an OT session, you do not know the meaning of hard work, for the child, for the teacher and for those adults that love them. None of it has been easy, in fact, everything is hard, very hard. Yet, the victories and accomplishments are huge.

Through the speeches on that graduation stage there was a recurring theme. “We deserve a chance”, “Even more challenges ahead”. “We believe in us”.

To the graduates and especially to Emma I say this…I am humbled by all of you and I know that you represent all that is good in this world. You are brave, you are capable and you will continue to amaze me.

At the end of the ceremony, Charlie, one of the graduates, sang a song and played his guitar. Perhaps you know the song from Wicked...

I've heard it said

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...

Congratulations Class of 2011….Village Glen West School...

I wish you a world and a future that is worthy of you.

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